What shocked him, however, was when he rode the same path just a few hours later and found the tortoise dead with its shell cracked. He and his brother, Owen, also saw a second tortoise farther down the path sitting in a pool of blood.
Walker texted his friend, 10-year-old Marina Redden: “Come look at the turtles.”
“It was terrible,” Marina Redden said when she visited the site.
Marina’s dad, Ray Redden, took the injury tortoise to the Bayshore Animal Hospital in Sarasota.
Marina was hoping their actions would save the tortoise.
“He was going ‘ahhh’ and gurgling,” Marina Redden said of the sounds the tortoise made during the trip.
Ultimately, the tortoise’s injuries proved too severe and he died, too.
Marina’s mom, Angela Redden, said someone purposely targeted the creatures, most likely slamming their shells with a hammer or flipping them upside down and repeatedly throwing them onto the concrete sidewalk.
Ray Redden said there was one circular splatter near the first dead turtle, with no marks indicating it had moved itself off the sidewalk.
The second turtle sat it in a pool of blood and there were two other similar marks — circular pools of blood — on the sidewalk. A vehicle would have created a different blood splatter pattern, Redden believes.
“There was no blood trail,” Ray Redden said.
“It’s disappointing,” Walker Speir said. “They looked so calm and nice, and they were beaten to death.”
Residents of the Lakewood Ranch community are outraged by the death of the tortoises, who lived along the pathway just west of Greenbrook Adventure Park and near Heron’s Nest Park.
Summerfield Glades resident Greg Fielder and his wife, Sandy, have seen the gopher tortoise along the path to Heron’s Nest park for at least five years. Sandy Fielder saw the dead turtle on her way to the dog park in Greenbrook’s Adventure Park and told her husband.
File photo of a juvenile gopher tortoise
“His shell was cracked right open and everything was coming out,” said Greg Fielder. “People walk there all morning. It really made me mad. It really broke my heart. I got a shovel and buried it out there in the woods.”
The Center for Biological Diversity announced Monday it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also has a $600 reward offered. Neighbors are contributing $1,600 to the $7,200 total reward.
The Arizona-based non-profit has an office in St. Petersburg and is dedicated to protecting endangered species.
File photo of adult gopher tortoise
"Taking just one tortoise can affect generations to come," said attorney Elise Bennett. "Gopher tortoises are defenseless. Other than their shells, that's all they have and to think that someone would do something so brutal and cruel."
Gopher tortoises are a threatened species protected under state law. Intentionally injuring or killing one is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, $5,000 fine, or both.
Anyone with information should contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or Tip@MyFWC.com.
VIDEO NEWS CLIP:
“A person may not intentionally kill or wound any fish or wildlife species designated by the commission as endangered, threatened, or of special concern.” Violation of this law is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, or both.
If you see someone wounding or killing an endangered species, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Reward Program: 888-404-FWCC (3922) or Tip@MyFWC.com.
(ABC Action News, Your Observer - June 27, 2017)